A moving parable about the wounding effects of human tragedy and the collateral damage of the search for moral truth.

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The Arsonist's Last Words

An elegiac novel that deftly combines elements of investigative journalism and crime fiction.

This debut effort follows the morally wrenching aftermath of a major urban catastrophe in a way that’s eerily evocative of the 9/11 attacks. A massive fire consumes the Parramore Plaza in Orlando, Fla., killing 115 people and emotionally scarring untold more. Marko Abissi, a recently fired janitor, immediately falls under suspicion, as he all too perfectly fits the profile of an arsonist: He has a history of violence and a personal life crumbling into disarray. There are also rumors that he has ties to the Middle East. Juni Bruner, a grizzled veteran reporter, tirelessly investigates every lead, desperately trying to make sense of the despairingly senseless. The book’s startlingly innovative structure powerfully captures the city’s madness in response to the disaster. Instead of a traditional novel told from a single perspective, the book is more like a heap of archival documents—including newspaper articles, personal correspondence, transcripts of telephone conversations and even a worker’s compensation report. The reader becomes a proactive participant in the investigation, poring over the dark mystery’s disjointed evidence. From the outset, the novel reveals that Bruner won a Pulitzer Prize for her ace reportage and that she ultimately took her own life, leaving only a 200-page manuscript as a clue to her inconsolable sadness. Her spiraling descent mirrors the city’s frenzied chaos, its people numbed by depression and enlivened by the urgency to assign blame. Although the climax is fairly predictable early on, it’s still a poignant conclusion to a stirring tale. It’s a testament to the author’s skill that the narrative remains a seamless whole, even as it unfolds in fractured parts.

A moving parable about the wounding effects of human tragedy and the collateral damage of the search for moral truth. 

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0985535803

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Mansfield House Books

Review Posted Online: May 24, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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